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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 12, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: North Korean Rocket Rattles International Community

Despite international warnings, North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket (Yonhap) in a move that South Korea, the United States, and Japan have condemned as a disguised test of long-range missile technology in violation of a 2009 UN resolution banning Pyongyang from ballistic missile tests. North Korea said a weather satellite had been placed in orbit, and the United States condemned the launch as "highly provocative" while Japan called for an emergency Security Council meeting (JapanTimes), although further tough sanctions could be difficult to obtain as China, the North's only major ally, is expected to oppose them.


"A North Korean satellite test may provide a basis for strengthened Japan-South Korea cooperation despite deepening differences over history and territorial issues. Further North Korean provocations may yet diminish strategic mistrust between the United States and China," writes CFR's Scott Snyder.

"[Because] the North Korean regime is inherently unstable and is suspected of already having a nuclear device, the West's options for responding to Pyongyang's provocative acts — the latest missile passed over the Japanese island of Okinawa before falling into the waters off the Philippines — remain limited. This is very worrying given that the North Koreans have a long history of sharing their nuclear and missile technology with Iran," writes Con Coughlin for the Telegraph.

"Crucially, too, this is the first time that North Korea's claims of success have been backed by key international observers. But the technical success of the launch is about the only thing that Pyongyang and Washington agree on. The US and its allies allege that North Korea's satellite launches are in fact cover for a long-range missile program, designed to develop weapons that could strike the US," writes Lucy Williamson for the BBC.



Xi Jinping Emphasizes Reform

Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping made a string of high-profile calls for further reform (SCMP) during a five-day tour of Guangdong province, returning to Beijing yesterday after his first inspection trip since becoming the party's new chief last month.

CFR's Yanzhong Huang talks about China's leadership transition in this blog post.



U.S. Presence in Afghanistan Smaller Than Expected

The U.S. administration plans to keep 6,000 to 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, fewer than previously reported (LATimes), and will place most of them out of the field in fortified garrisons near the capital. Sixty-eight thousand remaining American troops will leave in the next two years.

BANGLADESH: Nizamul Huq, the top judge of a tribunal handling alleged crimes against humanity during Bangladesh's independence war in 1971, has resigned (BBC) after leaked communications appeared to show him discussing classified matters with an overseas legal expert.



Egypt Referendum: Two Rounds

Egypt's referendum on its controversial draft constitution will happen on two separate dates (AlJazeera), with each round covering a different region due to a lack of judges willing to oversee the vote. Thousands of protesters stormed Cairo on Tuesday in rallies for and against the proposed constitution backed by President Mohammed Morsi.

This CFR Backgrounder explains Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

SYRIA: President Obama on Tuesday said the United States formally recognized (NYT) Syria's coalition of opposition groups as that country's legitimate representative.

Four experts discuss what U.S. policy in Syria should be in this CFR Expert Roundup.



Mali Appoints Interim PM

Dioncounda Traoré, the interim Malian president, appointed Django Sissoko to replace Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, who resigned (IBT) with his cabinet hours after being arrested by military men who participated in the country's March coup.

GHANA: Police in Ghana raided an office where the opposition party was recounting votes in their preparation to contest last week's presidential poll (AP), which handed a slim victory to the incumbent President John Dramani Mahama.



Greece Set for Aid Payout

Greece is on course to receive a long-delayed 34.4 billion euro aid tranche after it fell just short of its target in a bond buyback program (FT) intended to knock off about 20 billion euros from its sovereign debt load.

RUSSIA: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday denounced opponents who receive financial assistance from abroad and warned against foreign meddling in its political process (AFP).



EU to Assign Trade Accord With Peru, Colombia

The EU parliament looks set to approve trade accords (MercoPress) with Central America, Peru, and Colombia, marking the first time it has signed an agreement with a regional bloc. The agreement also leaves the door open for Bolivia and Ecuador to join at a future time.

CUBA: President Hugo Chavez emerged from a six-hour surgical procedure in Cuba (CNN) after announcing Saturday that his cancer had returned.



New Fiscal Cliff Offers Traded

President Obama made a new fiscal cliff proposal (CBSNews) on Monday and Republicans made another counteroffer on Tuesday. Specifics of the proposals have not been released other than that Obama's offer calls for $1.4 trillion in new revenue, down from $1.6 trillion. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner continued to press him to identify specific spending cuts.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is likely to take over Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) ranking position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, reports Politico.



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